The Japanese American Cultural and Community Center will present its second annual Community Spirit Awards during its 33rd anniversary celebration on Sunday, June 30, from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Beverly Hilton, 9876 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills.
The award was created to recognize the unsung heroes of the community; the individuals whose unwavering dedication and commitment have had an immeasurable impact on the people and organizations around them. To shine a light on the contributions of these dedicated individuals, the JACCC launched a campaign last year seeking nominations from the community through email and the JACCC website.
The first annual Community Spirit Award recipients were June Aochi Berk, Rumiko Nakatani, and Amy Phillips Kushigemachi.
The JACCC continues to recognize individuals who are making a significant impact on the community through arts, activism, social services, or business. This year the JACCC received an overwhelming number of nominations from the community. The recipients of the second annual Community Spirit Award are Iku Kiriyama, Leland Lau, and Diana Ono.
• Iku Kiriyama was born in Los Angeles to Takashi Kato, an Issei from Kagoshima, and Shizuko Kato, a Nisei. In April 1942, the Kato family was incarcerated at Manzanar. At the end of the war, the family moved back to Los Angeles and lived in Torrance, where Kiriyama attended school through graduation from North High School. She was active in student government, serving as student body president in her senior year (1956-57), the first Japanese American ASB president in the Torrance Unified School District.
Her parents operated Kato Nursery on Crenshaw and 182nd Street in North Torrance from 1947 to 1959 until they were forced to move by eminent domain for the construction of the 405 Freeway and resettled in Gardena on Artesia Boulevard east of Western Avenue.
Kiriyama attended USC, majoring in history and minoring in English. She participated in campus activities, serving on the freshman and sophomore class councils; the national sophomore women’s service honorary, Spurs; vice president of the Nisei Trojans and president of Sigma Phi Omega, the Asian women’s sorority.
She began teaching in the Los Angeles Unified School District at Foshay Junior High School in 1962. In 1963, she was one of three teachers to pioneer the Japanese language program, a collaboration with USC, the Carnegie Foundation and the school district. She was assigned to James Monroe High School in the San Fernando Valley, where she taught English and Japanese until 1971. In 1964, Kiriyama was one of 16 teachers nationwide to attend the first Summer Fulbright Program in Japan.
Kiriyama taught English as a second language in the Adult Division for 22 years. Following that, in 1999, she was a teacher advisor on the Human Relations Education Commission for two years. Her last assignment was Title I teacher advisor at the Local District 8 office in Gardena. She retired in 2004.
She married George Kiriyama in September 1969 and raised two children, George Takahisa, a news reporter for NBC Bay Area in San Jose, and Traci, a poet, organizer, artist and founder of Tuesday Night Project at the Union Center of the Arts in Little Tokyo.
The couple participated in various community activities and organizations. Iku served on the Torrance Human Resources Commission and on the board of the Torrance League of Women Voters in the 1990s. She has been the chair of the Friends of Coastal Asian Pacific Mental Health Center since George’s death in 2005; he held the position for over 20 years. Her primary participation has been with the Japanese American Historical Society of Southern California, of which George was the principal founder in 1980. She chaired the “Nanka Nikkei Voices” publication through four issues (the most recent, “The Japanese American Family,” launched on Sept. 18, 2010), chaired 10 years of the Community Heritage Awards dinners, and served as editor, secretary and treasurer.
Since being widowed, Kiriyama has presented forums to share her experiences to hopefully save others from negative experiences. Although she went into some of the forum topics with some trepidation, since to share some of the personal experiences seemed so “un-Nisei,” she decided it was more important to help others. The sold-out attendance supported her intention.
Kiriyama was the 2000 El Camino Lions Community Recognition recipient; 2002 Downtown Chapter JACL Woman of the Year; and 2006 inductee with her husband, posthumously, to the Gardena Wall of Fame. In 2010, she received the Community Honoree award from the JACL Pacific Southwest District. In 2012, the writers of “Nanka Nikkei Voices: The Japanese American Family” were recognized by the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California with the Community Organization Recognition Award (CORA).
• Leland G. Lau was born and raised in Southern California, where he was exposed to a wide variety of ethnic cultures. While attending USC School of Business he became a member of the Asian fraternity, Gamma Epsilon Omega. Upon his graduation, he worked for IBM at the Los Angeles East Regional Office’s Small Business Systems Division. Currently, he is an active CPA in public practice for over 35 years in the Los Angeles area.
Lau lends his ability to evaluate, organize and execute to every community cause that he is involved in. He began working with the Japanese American Optimist Club of Los Angeles over 23 years ago. He was the 40th president of JAO and has been the commissioner of the JAO Invitational Basketball League for the past 19 years. His children have participated in various Japanese American sports programs.
As the commissioner of the league, he has increased the number of teams to approximately 145 from only 55 when he started in 1994. He is proud to oversee the girls’ portion of the league that was retained by the JAO founders. The league will continue to serve Japanese and Japanese American players while embracing the diversity in the community as it goes forward.
Ten years ago, Lau began the Kids for Keiro Hoop Shoot Fundraiser for Keiro Senior HealthCare. The goal was to provide awareness to the younger parents in the community about the role Keiro plays for seniors. This project was also a way to encourage interaction between the players and Keiro residents.
Several years ago, Lau organized the Nisei Week Carnival at the JACCC. He continues to be active with Nisei Week as an advisor.
Outside of the Japanese American community, he is the board treasurer of Optimist Youth Homes & Family Services. Over the past 17 years, he has helped guide the facility through its financial good times and bad. In addition to this, he serves on OYHFS’ Executive, Facilities and Charter School committees and has served on the Executive Search Committee. A recipient of the OYHFS Volunteer of the Year Award, he maintains a high level of involvement as he sees more Asians in the target population.
• Diana Ando Ono grew up on the Ito family strawberry farm in Orange County with her family. This traditional and intergenerational upbringing contributed to her passion to promote and preserve the Japanese culture, traditions, arts, history and stories of the Issei and Nisei. On the weekends, her two sisters and two cousins studied Nihon buyo from Hanayagi Rokumie, went to Japanese language school and Sunday school, attended Mie Kenjinkai picnics, and enjoyed growing up with a large extended farming family.
Her grandparents, Mine and Gonsaku Ito, were one of the pioneer families of the Orange County Buddhist Church. Their dedication to the Nikkei community and the values they placed on giving back was the catalyst for her volunteerism.
Ono graduated from CSU Long Beach with a degree in Japanese language and a minor is Asian American studies. She studied abroad for over one year at Waseda University in Tokyo. There, she realized how important her Japanese roots were, and upon returning she wanted to share the rich Japanese culture with her friends as well as the community.
In the early 1980s, she worked in the travel business in Little Tokyo. This was a great opportunity to become involved in the various community organizations such as JACCC, Japanese American National Museum and Keiro Senior HealthCare.
As a founding member of OCBC’s Project Kokoro, a senior citizen outreach organization, Ono helps organize events and outings for over 100 seniors in the OC community. Her involvement with seniors extends to her volunteer activities with Keiro and the Genki Women Wellness Conference. She also helped usher in the new generation of Sansei and Yonsei women into the Buddhist Women’s Association (Fujinkai) at OCBC to ensure that Japanese traditions, especially in food preparation, would be preserved.
She acts as a liaison/connection between a plethora of local Nikkei community organizations, promoting live performances, programs and other events put on by groups such as Great Leap, Grateful Crane Ensemble, East West Players, Kizuna, Terasaki Nibei Foundation, JACCC, Keiro, JANM, Japanese American Historical Society of Southern California, Fujima Seiyumi Kai, Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches (A3M), Little Tokyo Service Center, Orange County Optimist’s Walk the Farm, Rising Stars, JACL’s Chibi no Gakko, and the Japanese Community Center Roundtable.
Recently, she joined CSULB’s Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden’s Friends Council to help promote the garden’s cultural and educational programming.
Along with helping senior citizens, she is very passionate about Nikkei youth leadership, which she sees as the future of the community. As an OCBC board member and co-youth director, she oversees and supports the Dharma School programs, SEYO sports, and Girl Scouts/Boy Scouts.
A lifelong advocate of healthy living, Ono continues to play in the OCSA 40+ women’s basketball league, helped organize a zumba class, and has opened the OCBC Gym for women’s basketball every Monday night for over 25 years. This provides a safe community for JA women and girls to have fun, get exercise and create lifelong friendships.
Ono believes that being surrounded by good people makes life so much more enjoyable and keeps her healthy. She believes that life is too short, so it is important to give back and volunteer. Her dedication to helping others comes straight from the heart. Preserving the history and empowering the future of the community are of great importance to her.
She and her husband Russ have raised two daughters: Tracie, a CSU Fullerton kinesiology graduate, and Megan, a CSULB communications major. In addition to community activities, they spend a lot of family time together at the beach, hiking, cooking, playing sports, and volunteering.
Chefs Akira Hirose and Michael Hide Cardenas and the late Frances Hashimoto Friedman of Mikawaya will also be honored at the JACCC event, whose theme is “A Taste of Success: Shaping Generations of Japanese Culture and Cuisine to the American Palate.”
For more information or reservations, contact Janet Hiroshima at [email protected] or (213) 628-2725.